I have lived or worked in Kurdistan since 1992 and often hear the comment “I am amazed at the changes in the region!” This is a fair reaction when one considers that in 1992 everything was in ruin – the first free elections had just been held – there was little or no electricity – food was sometimes scarce and luxuries unheard of. Cell phones? - Forget it.
However to tell the truth I was among those who are not shocked at this announcement and have believed from the outset that this is the Kurdistan the world would see emerge from the horror of Saddam’s rule. I used to tell my friends in the early 90s that one day we would be flying into an International airport in Erbil – which in those days consisted of a largely unused runway and a shack with a sign that said “Erbil International Airport”. They generally thought I had been in the sun too long. But then again they thought the same when my partner Harry Schute and I started the first ever inwardly focused tour company in Kurdistan. Now that airport is ranked among the most sophisticated in the world and boasts daily flights from dozens of International destinations. As for tourism – Kurdistan is fast becoming the world’s hottest adventure tour destination as companies and travelers look for fresh and safe places to explore.
I have had the privilege of meeting with Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani on a number of occasions over the years and have oft heard him say “We will make Erbil into the next Dubai”. Many scoffed. No more. Erbil is becoming the hottest conference center in the Middle East offering incredible tour sites both in and out of the city that Dubai does not. Dubai is often noted as a boring place to visit if you don’t like shopping. Erbil resides in a region filled with archeological, historical and scenic sites that are unequaled in the Middle East. Now that the new downtown development has been announced the added element of world class shopping and amenities is being addressed and it is clear to all that Kurdistan has become a major player in the International Tourism Market. It truly is THE UNEXPECTED DESTINATION!